Friday, February 15, 2008

Stealing Art

Last Sunday, an art museum in Zurich, Switzerland, was robbed of four paintings worth $160 million. The crooks managed to overpower the staff at gunpoint shortly before closing time and make off with a Van Gogh, a Monet, a Degas, and a C├ęzanne, which were easily visible in the trunk of their fleeing car. Similar heists have taken place in other European museums in recent years. Why is it so easy to steal art in Europe?

Smaller galleries and no guns. Europe has an especially high concentration of world-class art collections, many of which are housed in modest institutions. The art in Zurich was housed in a 19th-century villa, as opposed to a large-scale museum with a complicated entrance. Further, most security personnel in European museums aren't armed, mostly due to a culture of openness and trust, but also for reasons of expense and liability—you wouldn't want bullets flying around an enclosed space with lots of frightened tourists and precious objets d'art. While many galleries have alarms, guards, and other staff to prevent off-hour thefts, they don't always take precautions to avoid the most obvious scenario: armed criminals walking right through the front door.

Read the rest of Cyrus Farivar's article.

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